“While the role of special operations forces has grown in size and scope since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the importance of the Pentagon civilian overseeing them has diminished, experts say.
This meant that military commanders, especially the head of Special Operations Command, end up making critical decisions that should be made by civilian leaders, argued retired Army Col. Mark Mitchell, who served as acting head of SO/LIC in the Trump administration, in a May op-ed.
“The net result is an inverted relationship that runs counter to the concept of civilian oversight,” Mitchell wrote.
Many in the special operations community, including Mitchell, have long argued that the civilian position should be elevated to the undersecretary level. Miller himself advocated for this change during his Wednesday remarks.
“I personally think SO/LIC deserves to be an undersecretary of defense, but unfortunately that’s beyond my authority and purview at that time,” said Miller, who briefly served as the deputy in charge of special operations and combating terrorism this year. “I know future generations will take that on.”
The change announced Wednesday reflects the fact that special operations have greatly increased in significance to America’s national security since 9/11, said retired Col. Stu Bradin, president and CEO of the Global SOF Foundation. As the Pentagon shifts its focus from counterterrorism to competition with Russia and China, special forces will have an even more important role to play, he said.
“The shift in focus to great power competition does not mean that SOF will be or should be relegated to the back burner. On the contrary, our enemies are not looking to fight us on the conventional battlefield,” Bradin said. “We must recognize the importance of irregular warfare in this next set of threats. And, in our opinion, the civilian oversight of special operations should be increased and elevated accordingly.”